Football: Robson's men routed by Heskey

Middlesbrough 0 Leicester City 3
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A COUPLE of stealthy strikes from Emile Heskey and one from Tony Cottee left Middlesbrough cursing the loss of an opportunity which for them comes along every 23 years. That is how long it is since they experienced the joy of sitting at the top of English football's senior division.

However, the win they required to go to the head of affairs last night was just never a serious starter. Heskey rewrote Teeside's script savagely, grabbing one first-half goal and another in silky style seven minutes from time.

Both managers had good reason to bemoan the fact that the best-laid plans go astray. No sooner did Middlesbrough's Keith O'Neill limp off after three minutes than Leicester were preparing to lose an even more crucial member of their defence. After nine minutes, Tim Flowers, who has begun his Filbert Street career on a high, was carried off with a gashed knee which needed 10 stitches, following a collision with Robbie Mustoe.

Yet what was constant about Leicester was the expected level of militancy and in the space of a minute Heskey and Steve Guppy were booked.

In the absence of Andy Townsend, Paul Ince was handed the Middlesbrough captaincy, and he responded the way he likes to. It was Ince who set up the move that ought to have given them a lead midway through the opening half, whipping a cross through a heavily populated penalty area, but when the wing-back Robbie Stockdale took delivery he outwitted Guppy only to be thwarted by an excellent blocking save from Flowers' replacement, Pegguy Arphexad.

However, in the space of three quite stunning minutes Leicester scored twice to leave Boro severely embarrassed. Heskey was the first to demonstrate his predatory skills after 35 minutes, beating Mark Schwarzer with a vicious downward header. If the marking was suspect during that little piece of action then it was simply negligent when Cottee made it 2-0 three minutes later. Boro's defenders seemed mesmerised by the flight of Guppy's deep cross, but Cottee read it perfectly, darting between two defenders to nod in an opportunist goal.

That did everything for Leicester's sense of self- esteem, evidenced by the growing quality of their football and the increasing volume of dissenting voices amongst home supporters. Bryan Robson's side were well and truly in the wars, a reminder of which came on the stroke of half-time as the substitute Neil Maddison became the latest stretcher case with concussion following a clash of heads with Gerry Taggart.

Boro's hope was that the arrival of Campbell, with all his pace, would find them a route back into the game. Certainly they began the second half in far better shape than they ended the first, but Leicester are nothing if not resolute, Matt Elliott heading off the line from Gianluca Festa.

Inevitably gaps were left by Boro and on the hour Heskey almost succeeded in exploiting one with a darting break, and only Schwarzer's reflexes prevented him from scoring. The big striker was not to be denied later, however.

"That result has brought a few of our players back down to earth," Robson said. "Perhaps they got carried away after beating Liverpool."

Middlesbrough (5-3-2): Schwarzer; Stockdale, Festa, Vickers, Pallister, Ziege; Mustoe, Ince, O'Neill (Maddison, 3; Campbell, 44); Ricard, Deane. Substitutes not used: Armstrong, Summerbell, Roberts (gk).

Leicester City (3-5-2): Flowers (Arphexad, 9); Sinclair, Elliott, Taggart; Impey, Lennon, Savage, Izzet, Guppy; Cottee (Marshall, 75), Heskey. Substitutes not used: Gilchrist, Oakes, Zagorakis.

Referee: R Harris (Oxford).